ALBUM REVIEW: ‘Celesta’ by Michael Jon Fink

by Peter Tracy

Even at their most outgoing, instruments like the celesta tend to hide in larger ensembles, coming out of the texture for little moments here and there. Perhaps this is because the celesta tends to be a quiet instrument: its tuned metal bars give off a delicate ring that is subtle and long lasting, but won’t compete with a horn section or timpani.

On his latest album, appropriately titled Celesta, Los Angeles-based composer Michael Jon Fink moves the instrument to center stage. Rather than burying the instrument in a larger ensemble, Fink applies his sparse, tranquil, and quietly mysterious musical language to this often-overlooked instrument, creating what is among the largest ever collections of music for solo celesta.

Comprised of twelve short pieces performed by the composer, this is an album in which less is more. Ranging from under one minute long to just over six, the pieces as a whole form something of an arc, at times melancholic, joyful, nostalgic, or pensive, but always quiet and spacious.

This suite of sorts begins with “Call,” a gently lilting melody over bell-like arpeggiations that is reminiscent of a tune from an ancient music box. “Cold Pastoral” features two lines in sparse counterpoint, with a simple and repetitive, yet slowly varying melodic phrase that brings to mind a lake frozen in the dead of winter. The pensive stillness takes on a nostalgic tone in “Bells,” with pentatonic melodies that twinkle like a wind chime. “From the Singing River” turns things in a more mysterious direction, with little melodic variations that seems to circle around without ever arriving at their final destination.

The following two pieces, “First Star, Last Star” and “Post-Impression” continue this trend, tending toward pensive arpeggiated melodies with plenty of space to let the instrument’s soft tones reverberate. By “Ruins,” things have settled into a meditative trance, with the title helping to inspire a feeling of something that has been lost to the past. Slightly more active pieces follow, with the tenuously hopeful “Sunless” incorporating some of the lower notes of the five-octave celesta and the eerie “Nocturne for the Three Times” drifting through incredibly sparse and atmospheric textures.

“Softly Yellowed Moon” is equally enigmatic, with two lines providing melody and harmony that wind their way down into the longest piece on the album, “Triptych.” Loosely divided into three parts, the piece begins with a quietly wandering melody over a left-hand ostinato before moving into what is the most openly joyful music of the album. Eventually, the music reaches an almost animated conclusion featuring crescendos in tight harmony and the celesta sounding more bell-like than ever. The appropriately named “After the End,” then, seems to question this borderline excitement, leaving us with a somber and unsettlingly harmonized reflection.

Still, the album avoids drawing a clear conclusion. Is there a story here in the space between the notes, or are we just meant to reflect on the round tones of the celesta as they fade into silence? Each piece feels like a small and crystalline world of its own, inviting the listener to discover their own meaning for themselves.

Floating Through ‘Triadic Memories’: Jesse Myers on the Music of Morton Feldman

by Maggie Molloy

It’s easy to lose track of time amid the sparse tones of Morton Feldman’s Triadic Memories. The 90-minute solo piano work lends itself well to meditation—which is exactly the idea behind pianist Jesse Myers’ October 25 performance at the Good Shepherd Chapel. He invites audience members to slow down, grab a pillow and get lost in its softly sprawling sounds.

In this in-studio interview, Myers talks with us about the music of Morton Feldman, the magic of sensory amplification, and what it feels like to float in sound.


Audio engineering by Nikhil Sarma. Music in this interview is from Feldman’s Triadic Memories, performed and recorded by Jesse Myers.
For more information on his October 25 performance, click here.

VIDEO PREMIERE: ‘Trozo’ by Tristan Eckerson

by Peter Tracy

Composer and pianist Tristan Eckerson.

Brazilian dancer Saan Queiroz spins and glides his way through a forest in the new video for Tristan Eckerson’s “Trozo.”

The piece, which is the title track from Eckerson’s 2016 debut full length album, is a melancholy work for solo piano featuring continuous arpeggios and sparse melodies. Recently, Eckerson completely re-recorded, re-mixed, and re-mastered the album, which he will re-release as Trozo Revisited on October 18.

In this video created by Caio Nogueira (Pupilla) and directed by Emily Naitê, Queiroz gives a fluid and animated dance performance in a sunlit forest, giving a new dimension to Eckerson’s atmospheric work.


Tristan Eckerson’s Trozo Revisited is out Friday, Oct. 18. For more information, click here.

Seattle Symphony Spotlight: Flutist Claire Chase

by Dave Beck

Claire Chase is a flutist with a flair for the new, the adventurous, and the unexpected. She’s given the premieres of hundreds of new works for her instrument in performances throughout the world. In 2012, she was awarded the MacArthur Genius Grant for her work not only fostering the creation of new music, but also building organizations, forming community alliances, and supporting educational programs.

That work is on display in Seattle this week when she performs as the soloist with the Seattle Symphony and Music Director Thomas Dausgaard in Aello: Ballet Mecanomorphe by Olga Neuwirth. It’s scored for flute, bass flute, and an ensemble that includes tuned water glasses and a typewriter. Chase gave the world premiere of the piece, an homage to the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 4, last year at the BBC Proms with Dausgaard leading the Swedish Chamber Orchestra.

This week in Seattle, Chase also presents a solo recital of music by Marcos Balter as part of her innovative Density 2036 project. Chase explains more about this effort to generate new flute music, a project unfolding over a 23-year time span.


Claire Chase performs selections from Density 2036 on Friday, Oct. 11 at 7:30pm at Octave 9. She performs Olga Neuwirth’s Aello with the Seattle Symphony on Saturday, Oct. 12 at 8pm at Benaroya Hall. For tickets and more information, click here.

PREVIEW: Roomful of Teeth Performs Bryce Dessner’s ‘Triptych’

Interview by Dacia Clay; Text by Maggie Molloy

Thirty years after Robert Mapplethorpe’s death, his controversial photographs remain radical and subversive. In a new multimedia tribute called Triptych (Eyes of One on Another), composer Bryce Dessner explores Mapplethorpe’s legacy—his unique merging of classical forms and erotic imagery, his masterful balance of light and dark, and the issues of objectification and censorship that surround his work even today.

Performed by the inimitable Roomful of Teeth, Triptych features Mapplethorpe’s visceral images projected onstage in unprecedented drama and scale. The work’s libretto by Korde Arrington Tuttle draws from the writings of two influential poets: Mapplethorpe’s close friend Patti Smith and one of his critics, Essex Hemphill.

Ahead of Roomful of Teeth’s performance of Triptych on October 9 at the Moore Theatre, we talked with the ensemble’s Artistic Director Brad Wells about how this piece came to be and what audiences can expect.


Roomful of Teeth performs Triptych on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 8pm at the Moore Theatre. Click here for tickets and more information.